06:26, August 12 147 0 theguardian.com

2019-08-12 06:26:03
First thoughts  
 Boris Johnson’s ‘crime fighting’ crusade is mere posturing

The most pressing issue facing Britain this month is not its falling crime rate. Yes, that reads falling crime rate – it has, indeed, been falling since 1995. The trouble is that it is not falling faster than Boris Johnson’s electoral prospects.

Hence a month-long blitz of headline-seeking announcements on “fighting crime”. We have had 20,000 more police, 10,000 more prison places, enhanced powers of stop-and-search and convicts to get “the sentences they deserve” – a concept of Trumpian fatuity. The much-trumpeted idea that Johnson is some sort of Tory liberal in disguise is ridiculous.

Any cynical politician can trawl through what are called “police-recorded crime statistics” and find a few to suit the macho moment. In Britain, such figures serve to boost police budgets, stir fear and anti-immigrant hate and lead to the highest incarceration rate in western Europe. They have nothing to do with crime. As proper statisticians know, police-recorded crime is about police activity and a propensity to report. Hence currently “soaring” historic sex crime.

The only reliable figures are from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (there are separate ones for Scotland and Northern Ireland), which receive no publicity as they have been falling for a quarter century, probably as the nation prospers.

Where there appears to have been a genuine increase is in violent crime related to the illicit drugs industry, to “county lines” dealing networks and the growth of gangs. Yet the government of which Johnson is now leader has spent a decade cutting back on rehabilitation and probation, and starving anti-gang youth support. Prison conditions are reportedly deteriorating almost by the week. Theresa May stymied efforts to cut incarceration rates. Through all this, the key dysfunction underlying a significant amount of serious crime, the illegality of recreational drugs, is effectively “sponsored” by Home Office primitivism. The hottest spots for drug use are the government’s own jails, which the prime minister wants to expand.

Criminology libraries groan with evidence rejecting the idea that longer sentences, more imprisonment, more police and tougher stop-and-search bring down crime. They are a return to the dark ages. The causes of crime in Britain lie embedded in the social economy. They lie in stupid and unenforceable laws and, nowadays, in the inadequate regulation of the internet. The answers lie in tedious and unspectacular remedies, such as school and community institutions, in the design of cities and the care of vulnerable families.

Britain is not a crime-ridden country and it is cynical hypocrisy to maintain otherwise. Johnson is about to become surely the first prime minister in modern history to needlessly inflict a crushing economic sanction on his own country – purely to help him win his party leadership. He should at least concentrate on mitigating that blow, not on populist electioneering.

Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist